Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Air Quality

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I never really thought about air quality. Sure, there were days when the smell of cow manure would permeate the entire neighborhood, but I never had to worry about whether or not it was safe to play outside. I could simply just hold my nose.

This isn't the case in Shanghai. China's air quality is among the worst in the world, thanks to massive coal consumption and car filled streets. According to the latest Environmental Performance Index, China ranked 128th out of 132 countries for air quality. That's not exactly good.

The last few days have been some of the worst, pollution wise, that Shanghai has seen in over six months. Here is the view from our apartment earlier this summer, followed by a shot of our view Monday (which was actually taken after particle levels had dropped significantly).

Admittedly, these photos are not vastly different. Based on a glance out my window, I wasn't overly concerned about the air quality over the weekend. Which is why it's a good thing the US Consulate has started to monitor the air quality in Shanghai, complete with their own Twitter feed, to update US citizens on the current air conditions. This is what I saw when I checked it over the weekend.

Hazardous. That didn't exactly sound good. Especially after I checked this chart the Consulate provides on their website. Hazardous just happens to be the worst rating possible.

Apparently that run I took outside over the weekend was a bad idea. Whoops.

Anyone interested in checking out the current air quality in Shanghai can head over to the US Consulate's Web Site or their Twitter feed for more information.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Street Eats: Xiāngjiāo Xuě Gāo

After our last semi successful attempt at eating Chinese ice cream, we thought we would stick with something a little safer this time around and picked up a package of xiāngjiāo xuě gāo or banana ice cream.


Success! Matthew, our official taste tester and lover of all things ice cream, gives xiāngjiāo xuě gāo an enthusiastic thumbs up. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after he ate this that we found out there is a version where you can actually peel the banana. It seems our ice cream quest will just have to continue.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Xujiahui Park

Running in Shanghai can be a little bit like playing a real life game of Frogger.

Actually, crossing the street is more like playing Frogger. Running is like a game of Frogger where the grass isn't safe either as you also have to dodge slow moving people on the sidewalks who aren't afraid of throwing elbows. For me, running in Shanghai has become a contact sport.

Thankfully, our apartment is located close to the beautiful Xujiahui park, which has become my favorite running spot. While not huge in size, I can weave through the paths enough to cover two or three miles most mornings.

The park has a huge pond in the center, complete with swans, fish, and a few resident turtles.

And the best part about running in the park? Built in entertainment. Between the tai chi, ballroom dancing, parkour, and water calligraphy, I have plenty to keep me busy while I eke out my miles. Besides trying not to fall that is. Though I can't blame Shanghai for that issue.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Napping Bonanza

You all know I find the ability of Chinese people to nap anywhere a rather enviable skill. So I was beyond thrilled when our friend Tom emailed me these spectacular photos from his recent business trip to Guangdong. Seriously. I wish I had been there to witness this napping in all its glory.

First up, we have some table napping.

Followed by table napping with cardboard pillows.

And don't forget that your hat doubles as an eye mask!

You can also nap with the products you are making...

... or ON the products you are making!

Perhaps between them is the way to go.

 But my favorite has to be this guy who decided to nap INSIDE the refrigerator.

 Let's go in for a closer look.

 Amazing. Simply amazing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Streams, Dunes, and Canyons

On our last full day in Mui Ne, we chartered a jeep tour of the surrounding area through one of the local travel agencies. As with most things in Vietnam, the tour was cheap and only set up back $10 each for a five hour excursion. We debated renting motorbikes and venturing out on our own, but since I tend to get lost easily, we thought having someone else drive was probably better for my sanity (as well as our marriage). Our first stop was fairy stream.

Fairy stream winds its way through the surrounding bamboo forests, boulders and dunes. The only way to really view the stream is by walking through it. Once you arrive, local children will offer to accompany you along the way, hoping for a dollar tip in return. For the most part, the stream is about ankle-deep and easy enough to navigate through.

After splashing our way through the stream, we continued our exploration with stops at the local fishing harbor as well as the infamous white sand dunes. We totally got suckered into renting an ATV to ride while we were there. Matt enjoyed it, I did not.

With our ears still ringing from the sound of my screams (seriously, that ATV looked like it was going to topple over at any moment), we drove back towards Mui Ne. Along the way, we paused for photos at Red Canyon as well as the red sand dunes. 


And with that, our vacation in Mui Ne had come to an end. All that was left to do was eat some more vermicelli!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mui Ne Bay

The beautiful town of Mui Ne is only 140 miles from Ho Chi Minh City yet it was close to a five hour drive thanks to the poor road conditions and heavy motorbike traffic. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the picturesque grounds of Anantara Resort.

We spent the next few days swimming in the ocean, lounging by the pool, and getting pampered at the spa. We also took advantage of the amazing fresh seafood which could be found all throughout Mui Ne. One of our favorite meals came from the decidedly modest (and cheap!) Lâm Tòng restaurant. Here you can eat with sand between your toes while listening to the sound of water lapping the shore just steps away from your table.

Mui Ne is a beautiful, sleepy town where you can immerse yourself in the daily lives of a Vietnamese fishing village while also relaxing and recharging.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Last week, we took advantage of Matt's work holiday and headed to Vietnam for a few days. We flew directly into Ho Chi Minh City to begin our adventures. Commonly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of South Vietnam.

After leaving our hotel, we ventured to Pho 24 to sample some Pho Ga (or chicken soup) for breakfast. With a squirt of lime juice and a handful of basil leaves, this soup was the perfect start to our day.

With our bellies full of rice noodles and chicken, we headed off to the Reunification Palace. Formerly South Vietnam's presidential palace, the Vietnam war officially ended when tank 843 crashed through the gates here.

The basement of the palace is full of vintage 1960's phones, radios, and office equipment, supposedly left exactly as it was found when the Northern Vietnamese forces took over. I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be sitting here.

Before I go any further, I do want to address one issue I had with the historical sites in Vietnam. While I am by no means an expert on the Vietnam War, I was rather shocked to hear the conflict referred to as the War of American Aggression. Throughout the day, we heard over and over about how Northern Vietnam liberated the South from the Americans. Very little was mentioned about how the Americans were fighting alongside the South Vietnamese. While I realize that my views of the war were shaped by American history classes, I couldn't help but feel a bit misled by the information we were being given throughout our stay.

After the Reunification Palace, we headed to the War Remnants Museum, previously known as the American War Crimes Museum. Outside the museum is an array of US military jets, tanks, and helicopters. Inside the museum was a rather disturbing display of photographs, a simulated "tiger cage" prison, and pictures of deformed children, attributed to contamination by Agent Orange. Another exhibit tells the story of the war journalists from all over the world who documented the very war which would later take their lives.

By the end of our stay in Saigon, we both found ourselves a bit depressed and confused by the information we have been given. While war is never simple, it is at least two sided and we were very much only presented with one side during our stay in Vietnam. Even more upsetting than the biased account of the war however, was the realization of just how many people, from both sides, suffered throughout the war and after.  

With our hearts a little heavier than at the start of the day, we bid farewell to Saigon and headed off to the fishing village of Mui Ne for the next stage of our trip.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Golden Week

If you are wondering why there has been a lack of posts this week, it is because we are in Vietnam, enjoying this view.

We'll be back (in Shanghai and on this blog) next week.
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